Everyone who writes knows this. They also know that the first words, the first draft, is only the beginning of a long, arduous journey.
Editing is hard. I’m still at the stage where it’s taking me ten, fifteen, maybe twenty re-reads and edits before I’ve distilled my words down, crafted them into something that I’m merely satisfied with enough to show anyone else. Then there’s letting someone else read what you’ve written. And the hardest thing of all, having them critique your work.
I’m lucky enough to have in my circle of friends people who know much more than I do about literary-type pursuits, which is not all that surprising. My education and career has been almost solely science-based. Add in marriage, parenting, a part-time job as a telecommunications consultant and a couple of international relocations and there hasn’t been much time for anything else. It wasn’t until my children were both at school that I began fantasising about writing, about telling the stories filling my head, and finally plucking up the courage to take the plunge.
Fast forward to this year, to joining a local writers’ group, voracious reading of writing magazines, short story publications and a plethora of novels and novellas the average English student has probably read before exiting their teens, on top of the writing itself, and here I am, with a small portfolio of short stories.
I made contact with a dear and trusted friend, J, and tentatively asked if he would read a couple of things I’d written. He was glad to, and offered to give me feedback. I jumped at the chance, even though I was nervous. (No, not nervous, terrified.)
J and I Skyped a few days later, because he was on tour with a band and was reading the two shorts I’d sent him from a hotel in Scotland. My whole body was shaking. We’ve known each other since our teens, but this was a part of me he’d never seen. He writes, he knows writers, he knows actors and entertainers and musicians, and I have never been part of that club. I felt vulnerable. I felt sick.
J went through everything line by line. He told me what he liked, what he didn’t, while I scribbled furiously with a red pen over my text. J also told me not to overwrite. He said, ‘when you come to edit,’ like I’d handed him my first draft. I didn’t tell him what he was seeing was the best I’d ever written; that these stories were ones I’d penned months ago and I’d gone over them a dozen times. I was already feeling like I’d run around the block naked. There was no need to do a dance as well.
J’s feedback was absolutely invaluable. I’ve edited the stories again, alas too late for the competitions I’d already entered them in (another lesson learned, for another day). But I feel like they’re tight now and that they’re the absolute best I could have done at this point in time. And because of that feedback the next stories will be better.
Writing is hard. But in my experience, almost everything worth doing is.